By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dying Without a Will: Tennessee Law
Tennessee Legal


"I intend to live forever, or die trying." ~ Groucho Marx, American comedian and film and television star (1890-1977)




Most Tennessee adults don’t have a basic will. Their reasons include:


•"I just haven’t gotten around to it."


•"I don’t need a will because I don’t have much."


•"I’m afraid that once I write a will, I will die."


•"I just don’t want to think about death."


The reality is that every person will someday pass away. It is also a reality that when a deceased person – called a decedent – has no will, then Tennessee’s "intestate succession" laws take over.


Q: Won’t my spouse just inherit everything when I die?


A: Not automatically. Tennessee law may surprise your loved ones if you die without a will.


If a decedent has no will and no children, then yes, that person’s surviving spouse inherits the decedent’s estate.


But, if the decedent with no will has one child, then half goes to the child, and the other half goes to the decedent’s spouse.


If there are two children, then the spouse only gets one-third of the estate. If there are more than two children, the spouse gets one-third, and the children split the remainder of the estate through the probate process. If no surviving spouse, the estate goes to the decedent’s child(ren).


This may work for some families, but it could be a problem for others.


Q: What if a person dies with no will, no spouse, and no children?


A: In that case, the decedent’s estate goes to his or her parents. If the decedent’s parents have passed away, then the decedent’s estate goes to his or her siblings in equal shares. If any sibling has passed away, then that deceased sibling’s share goes to the child(ren) of the deceased sibling.


NOTE: Real estate that was jointly acquired and owned by two spouses will be inherited by the surviving spouse.


James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. You can call (615) 452-9200 to suggest future column topics.